When men are the reason girls dodge slumber parties
Is avoiding men helping or hurting girls and women with trust issues?
“Are her father and brother going to be there?” my friend’s grandmother asked.
I paused over that question, wondering how were my father and brother relevant to me asking my Girl Scout friend come over for a slumber party. I’d had plenty of them growing up, usually with my brother randomly coming in to scare the bejesus out of my friends while wearing a Jason mask and my father trying as much as humanly possible to stay out of the way — minus an offer to cook breakfast. He and my mother would peer into the living room or my bedroom to make sure we were all still breathing. Other than that, we were left to our own devices.
So when I asked my friend why did this make a difference, she shrugged and said her grandmother forbid her to spend the night at any house with men living there. My mind was blown. These weren’t randoms. This was my mother’s husband of more than a decade (now 40 years) and my biological father. The other “man” was the bonehead who’d been my roommate up until I was almost 7 years old. Although he was seven years older than me, he definitely was not considered a “man” as a teenager. This was the same guy who negotiated toys with me — 30 minutes of me playing G.I. Joe meant he would humor being Ken while I played with Barbies. (Ken always ended up speeding away in the convertible and hanging out at Castle Grayskull though.)
I couldn’t let this explanation go. I went to my mother to explain to me why her grandmother would be so opposed to men being in a household. I watched my mother awkwardly try to explain where this woman was coming from, to the eyes and ears of a pre-teen. Eventually she stopped trying to sugarcoat the issue and carefully discussed how sometimes there are circumstances in which men touch women inappropriately. My head could have exploded. I could not fathom the thought. I was more repulsed by the entire idea of it than frightened. I shrugged — and continued to have sleepovers with other Girl Scout friends and my other neighborhood friends who I attended school with.
She and I attended the same high school. I’d long ago stopped asking her to come visit my home. We’d talk on and off, but we definitely were not nearly as close of friends as we were in our elementary school years. To be honest, our personalities clashed as we got older. By the middle of sophomore year, we’d trailed off into separate crews and I had no desire to be friends with her anymore. But something also happened during my high school years that made me keep revisiting our friendship.
Some of my own new high school friends started confessing their own secrets — of child molestation and sexual assault. The first time I heard a heavy story like this, it was from a friend who came to school with a black eye. Her mother’s boyfriend had punched her in the eye — and then a month later, her own boyfriend punched her in the face, too. Her mother did nothing. Meanwhile I lived in a bubble in my neighborhood, with people knowing any sign of disrespect would result in a visit from Psycho (my brother’s nickname, also printed on the back of the trench coat he wore throughout high school). And if you’ve ever seen an episode of “One on One,” replace Flex and Kyla Pratt with me and my grandfather — same difference.
I would be hanging out in physical education class and other friends and associates would matter-of-factly tell me about being touched or abused by their uncles, brothers and friends of the family — always male. The weight of this information was so heavy that I didn’t really know what to say or do. I’d never been in that situation. I’d comfortably high-fived all of my father’s friends, listening to one play his guitar, another drinking heavily and telling loud Madea-style stories, and trotted along happily hanging out with all three of my godfathers — with or without my godsisters. One godfather bought and built my first car. I’d grown up in a family full of strong, employed black men who were attentive fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, godfathers and so on.
As a teenager, I wondered if by not exposing young girls to men who really are upstanding, responsible human beings, are we then raising them to be scared of men — specifically black men? I’d always thought my former friend’s grandmother was sending the wrong message. But I distinctly recall a childhood friend come running over to our home, screaming and crying, saying she needed to leave home. We let her in, trying to figure out what in the world had just happened to her. Her mother came over, saying she was blowing the whole situation out of proportion. I heard some mumbling about her mother’s boyfriend. Eventually the girl did go home and never spoke of it again. What could my parents possibly do? Have a stand-off with a girl against her own mom?
By the time I reached adulthood, my head was pounding with the amount of stories I kept hearing from girls my own age who’d been the victims of child molestation and sexual assault — from men they knew and loved. And by the time I started interviewing mental health experts and their patients professionally, I’d grown disturbingly desensitized to hearing these stories over and over again. In 88 percent of the sexual abuse claims that Child Protective Services (CPS) substantiates or finds supporting evidence of, the perpetrator is male. Eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows — an acquaintance, current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
Recommended Read: “He brought a bat to a gunfight ~ Two lessons I learned from fathers”
In our current presidency, I wince every time Donald Trump says something about his daughter: “She does have a very nice figure” or motions to his chest and says, “She’s got Marla’s legs. We don’t know whether or not she’s got this part yet, but time will tell.” He even went as far as saying it was OK to refer to Ivanka Trump as a “piece of ass” and proclaimed that if she weren’t his daughter, “Perhaps I’d be dating her.”
I cannot wrap my mind around how Ivanka Trump just smiles and laughs off these highly inappropriate comments from her father. And while I cannot say he’s ever acted on his feelings for his daughter, the bus ride with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush makes me think the man thinks he can do anything he feels like. I just cannot wrap my mind around why (mainly white) women ignored that — if nothing else. And there are a disturbing amount of men who really think it’s OK do and act on these kinds of thoughts. It is bizarre.
To this day, I still stand my ground in defense of all the men I’ve personally grown to love, respect and who have been unpaid security guards throughout my entire life. But when I hear these stories from friends over the years and then hear of a president who is loud and proud about being inappropriate (verbally) with his daughter, it makes me reevaluate whether that friend’s grandmother had a point after all. I’m still undecided.
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